November 2017

Wed, Nov 15, 2017

Dipankar Gupta

CHI Salon: "From 'People' to 'Citizens': The Indian Experience", with Dipankar Gupta

Democracy is probably the most contrived human arrangement ever, far beyond just being a political one. Liberty and equality are complicated enough to observe, but it is “fraternity” that makes the project democracy so difficult. While liberty and equality can be framed in the context of laws, fraternity needs nurturing and a certain disposition towards others where empathy and inter-subjectivity contribute in equal measure.

Human beings are not naturally tuned into demands of fraternity. So much of our everyday lives depend on un-theorized images of who we are, our predictable routines and our individual aspirations. Fraternity forces us to take a deep look at some of these hitherto taken-for-granted aspects of the human condition. This is a task that liberty and equality, by themselves, are unable to perform. Equality of opportunity, for example, can be easily unmindful of those who do not start as equals in a competitive situation. Liberty, again, suffers for it is blindsided by its excessive concern with limiting the powers of the state, without recognizing a greater obligation to the whole.

When representation, not fraternity, is at the centre, the practice of democracy can seemingly satisfy equality and liberty by relying on peoples’ will, or majority opinion. This will, however, is representational and not a responsible one which has collective welfare in mind as a conscious goal. Fraternity demands leadership that is risk taking and citizen oriented and not just one that carries forward the consciously articulated demand of the people. It is worth examining some of these issues in the Indian context where democracy can be tested in conditions of extreme inequality. Also, this would provide the background for examining the tension between representation and fraternity, which all democracies face, but only some see it starkly.